Voyager -- 30 Years Later -- Is the Best Yet to Come?

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Voyager -- 30 Years Later -- Is the Best Yet to Come?
08.20.07
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Narrator: Voyager -- 30 years later. Is the best yet to come?
I'm Jane Platt with a podcast from JPL -- NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Natural sound of greetings

Narrator: For 30 years and billions of miles, those multi-lingual greetings have been sailing along in space on a pair of golden records, onboard the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft during their revolutionary journey through the solar system, and now toward interstellar space.

Stone: I think the main legacy of Voyager is to, in fact, have opened up our solar system in a way which was not possible before the Space Age. It revealed all of our neighbors in the solar system, and it showed us how much there was to learn and how diverse the bodies are that share the solar system with our own planet Earth.

Narrator: Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology has watched three decades of Voyager's journeys past such places as Saturn, Neptune, Uranus and Jupiter.

Natural sound of bowshock

Narrator: In fact, back in 1979, Voyager 1 caught some intriguing signals near Jupiter. There was a bowshock, like a sonic boom, created when the solar wind -- streaming away from the sun, passed the planets at supersonic speeds. Some pretty cool sounds, and a treasure chest of stunning pictures from the Voyagers -- real eye-openers for the world at a time before the instant gratification of the Internet.

Stone: I think that I'm proudest of the impact Voyager really had, and it was surprising. I did not realize how much impact it would have. When we flew by Neptune, people were standing in line at night at planetariums in order to be able to see the images coming in from Voyager, because they weren't on the Web in those days, there was no Web, you had to go somewhere in the middle of the night to see it. It became a worldwide event when Voyager was flying by these worlds.

Narrator: And the saga continues. With both Voyagers now billions of miles away, near the edge of our solar system, where the sun's influence fades out. They still phone home every day.

Massey: They're giving us information about the solar wind and the interstellar winds, the magnetic fields, the speed of the solar wind, the composition of the solar wind, energetic particles, cosmic rays and things like that.

Narrator: Voyager Project Manager Ed Massey of JPL says after the Voyagers actually leave our solar system, within the next 10 years or so, then hang onto your seats for a new batch of discoveries.

Massey: Well, for humankind I think the fact that we will be the first spacecraft and perhaps the only spacecraft in several lifetimes to actually make that milestone, and it will give us a lot of information about what happens out there beyond the sun, what happens, for instance, from a scientific point of view, to cosmic rays before they're influenced by the sun and other items like that.

Narrator: For the folks who've worked on Voyager for many years, including engineer Regina Wong, the spacecraft are really like part of the family.

Wong: Yeh, it's just more like a baby -- you watch it and it's like during the tests it's more like pregnancy and then after we launch the baby was born, and now the baby's 30 years old, it's like we're still taking care of it, even though it's 30 years old, it's just like your own kids, 30 years old is still a baby to you.

Narrator: Both those babies -- Voyager 1 and 2 -- have given scientists and the world some real surprises.

Stone: That the worlds were still dynamically active, even in the cold outer reaches of space, that in fact there could be 100 times more volcanic activity than here on Earth, there can be lakes of things like methane on other worlds, you can find magnetic fields where the pole's down near the equator, you can find geysers erupting from a surface which is 40 degrees above absolute zero, and now as we're approaching interstellar space, we find that the bubble around the sun, how big it really is. So those are the things Voyager has managed to do in its 30-year journey so far.

Narrator: More information is online at www.nasa.gov/voyager .
Thanks for joining us for this podcast from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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